PROVIDENCE — A coalition of groups including the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and disability and minority advocates joined yesterday to object to a plan to institute a tiered high school diploma system in the state, saying it would create a “caste system’’ in public schools.
The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education has proposed that each student who graduates from a public high school starting next year would receive one of three diplomas, depending in part on how well he or she does in junior year on a standardized test, the New England Common Assessment Program.
A student who scores “highly proficient’’ on the test and fulfills other requirements with distinction would receive an “Honors’’ diploma. One who scores “proficient’’ would receive a “Regents’’ diploma, and one who scores “partially proficient’’ would receive a “Rhode Island’’ diploma.
A student who does not pass the test could take it again and receive a “Rhode Island’’ diploma if he or she improves. If the student does not improve but meets other graduation requirements, he or she could receive a certificate.
A final public hearing on the plan is scheduled for today.
The groups said yesterday that, based on recent test scores, almost all students who are poor, are minority, have disabilities, or are learning English would get the lowest tier of diploma, if they get one at all. They said that could lead to discrimination from potential employers and colleges, and they said the proposed system amounted to “a state-sanctioned tool for discrimination and stigma.’’
Under the current system, a student is required only to take the standardized test, not pass it, to qualify for a diploma, the Department of Education said.
Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said in an opinion piece printed in some state newspapers yesterday that the tiered system honors excellence by enabling those who achieve at high levels to earn higher-level diplomas.
She said a diploma should signify that a student is ready for college or post-secondary training.
“No deserving student should be without a high school diploma, but no high school graduate should lack the skills necessary for success in college, careers, and life,’’ she wrote.
The groups objecting to the plan include the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, the Autism Project of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Legal Services, the Urban League, and Progreso Latino.